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How do you Position a Transformation Lead?

The Transformation Lead is a role that is becoming increasingly popular as organizations change their way of working. But where does Transformation fit in the existing org structure? Is it HR? Process improvement? Project Management / PMO?

Transformation efforts are struggling in companies. A key factor contributing to this lack of effectiveness is that transformations are often ill-positioned for the work they are taking on. Why is this happening? How can you position your Transformation Lead for the best outcome?

Transformation is defined as “A thorough or dramatic change in form or appearance.” Organizational Transformation suggests that the dimensions of change are limitless, the scope is unknown. Your transformation scope will be limited and biased by the reporting structure of the Transformation Lead.

The organization is not yet transformed. It is important to remember that your Transformation Lead has a foot in two worlds, the old and the new. In the new world they might be influential and impartial anywhere, but in the current world most times that’s not true. The person who determines their bonus is the person who gets preferential treatment in the transformation.

Transformation is NOT part of a Functional or Service Organization. I’ve seen transformations placed under HR, PMO, Process Improvement and even championed by Business Units. They all face the same challenge; everyone sees them as an ‘extra’ thing piled onto their other responsibilities. Transformation becomes “HR’s thing” or “a PMO thing”. It's a red flag when you hear the phrase, “We don’t have time for this, we have real work to do.”

The other problem with putting a transformation under a function is that it will be biased. Would a transformation under the PMO ever come up with the idea of dismantling the PMO? Would a transformation under HR ever suggest eliminating performance reviews? I'm not suggesting these are the changes you need to make, I'm suggesting that your possibilities are limited by the organization that owns the change.

Who cares? The Transformation Lead should report directly to the person that cares. By “cares” I mean that they care so much that ANY change is a possibility. This means possibly eliminating functions, organizational redesign, product elimination, etc. Nothing is off the table. The quick litmus test, suggest these items to the person your Transformation Lead will report to, if they cringe, you have the wrong person. In most hierarchies, the only person open to these types of discussions is the topmost person, usually the CEO but depending on the scope of the transformation maybe another C-Level executive. The CEO is one of the few people, maybe the only person, who is focused on what’s best for the company overall.

Transformations report to the CEO. To truly implement Transformational Change, the Transformation Lead must report to the CEO. If the effort is to change the way the company works, why wouldn’t it be the CEO? The CEO gives the effort the ability to integrate with all other work and be prioritized higher than all other work. That’s right, a transformation should be prioritized higher than all other work. That does not mean that all other work stops, but it means that transformation is not a separate thing, it’s woven into everything we do.

Structurally, the most effective way to position the Transformation Lead is as a “special assignment” reporting to the CEO, not necessarily with the same title as their peers.

You’ll need a really strong Transformation Lead. Now that we have the Transformation Lead reporting to the CEO, you better make sure you have the right person in that role. Our blog on the characteristics of a good Transformation Lead might help.

Pair your Lead with a Strong Consultant. Full disclosure: I am a Consultant in this space. Bringing in an outside person, with situational experience in other companies can strengthen your Transformation. Someone unbiased, with no dog in the fight, will bring an objective view and shatter assumptions that have been constructed and agreed upon by existing staff. This person (or people) will be a thinking partner to the lead and challenge the thinking of the entire company. If they make you uncomfortable, you have the right person!

How is your Transformation Lead doing? Are you the lead? Let us know!

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